How a Salisbury church models the power of discovery

Twenty years ago, the pastor of First UMC in Salisbury came up with a unique way to share God’s love with children in the community. The tradition remains as strong as ever.

Camp Discovery brings together 4th and 5th graders from Rowan-Salisbury Schools for a weeklong summer camp experience. Young people take part in martial arts, swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, ice cream making, a talent show and more — all with the support of mentors assigned to them at the beginning of the week.

Together, they live out God’s promise in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The Foundation’s Reynolds Ministry Fund helps to sustain Camp Discovery. This year, a Reynolds grant enabled in-depth training for mentors on how to provide the best emotional and psychological support to their campers.

In a written reflection (shared below), Rev. Thomas Griffis explains the origins of Camp Discovery. Rev. Griffis was the church’s senior minister from 1999 to 2007.

I thought of children in Salisbury who had never had an opportunity to attend summer camp. I was fortunate to attend Camp Hanes, a YMCA camp near Winston Salem, three summers when I was a boy. Years later, I attended Camp Uwharrie, a Boy Scout camp located outside of High Point. Summer camp, whether as a camper or a staff member, was an important piece of my summers.

Members of First United Methodist Church were invited to pay the tuition of campers and mentors, many of whom paid their own way and sometimes sponsored their camper.  The congregational response was overwhelming.  Not once did I have to ask for additional support.

The highway between Salisbury and Mount Shepherd stayed busy during the week of Camp Discovery as volunteers drove to and from the camp for morning devotions and Bible studies, crafts, ice cream making, and, most importantly, quality time with the campers. We called these faithful souls “day trippers.”

Every day, a child or entire cabin received the “Spirit Stick” for being caught in the act of doing or saying something nice. Before returning to Salisbury, each child received an award that expressed some aspect of his or her talent, ability or character. The children learned that they could do all things through Christ who strengthened them, our Philippians 4:13 scripture verse for the week.

After supper came special activities such as making homemade ice cream, movie night with a devotional and a talent show. Some of the mentors will remember to this day the three little girls who taught everyone “The Holy Ghost Revival.” Once a week there was a cookout with s’mores and a campfire vesper service and group singing. Thursday night, we gathered around the campfire to celebrate Holy Communion and to share stories from the week.

The 408+ children who have participated still remember those summer days at Mount Shepherd. Indeed, at least four have become mentors themselves. Quinn Scarvey (church member) shared recently that since she began teaching, several teenage students have approached her with questioning looks on their faces. According to Quinn, the conversation usually started like this: “I know this is a strange question, but did you work at a summer camp with a church?” The camp was, of course, Camp Discovery, and these children are living out the lasting impact this ministry of FUMC had on their lives.

Camp Discovery, Rev. Griffis believes, will continue “as long as there is a need for children to discover a love that is beyond their understanding — but well within their capacity to experience.”

This history was compiled with assistance from Lynn Withers, Joe Horn, Bobbie Melton, Laura Shaffer and Quinn Scarvey.

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